EdTech insights for decision makers


No. 51 |​ 03/10/2017

This issue is sponsored by

Several EdSurge reporters and team members headed down to Austin this week, for BBQ, tacos, and the SXSWedu conference. Equity emerged as a theme at the event, including during a set of lightning talks organized by EdSurge. Speakers admitted they had no silver bullets for the tough problems of better serving first-generation, low-income and adult students. But one idea got the most most audience questions at our session: replacing commercial textbooks with Open Educational Resources, or OER.

Most colleges start OER projects to save students money (and make sure all students have access to required materials). But moving away from college textbooks goes deeper, argued Marie Cini, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at the University of Maryland University College. Put simply, OER lets professors better customize their classes for their students than buying a one-size-fits-all textbook. Even textbook publishers are moving away from the old model. At another SXSWedu session, pitched as a debate between OER leaders and publishers, both sides agreed on more points than you might expect. Publishers don’t even like to use the word textbooks, instead calling themselves “learning sciences” companies that can integrate open content (as well as their own creations) into their platforms.

Of course textbook costs aren’t the biggest challenge facing students. But OER might end up being part of a broader shift to bring more relevant and more customized materials to college classrooms.


GET IN (HEAD)GEAR: VR educational content used to be something where students looked at, say the Louvre or ancient Rome. But some profs-turned technologists are taking it to the next level, creating experiences that students interact with and manipulate. They’re using consumer-grade VR tech to take students inside protein structures, around earthquake epicenters, and even into dance studios. And they’re just getting started.

ETHICAL ANALYTICS: Advocates of predictive analytics say the approach holds a lot of promise in higher ed: School might be able to better manage enrollment and have early “alerts” when students are veering off course. But making assumptions about a student’s potential based on data alone comes with huge risks. How to manage those? Think tank and policy org, New America offers up this five-point framework to “start” the conversation on campus: Predictive Analytics in Higher Education: Five Guiding Practices for Ethical Use.

WOMEN IN STEM: Coursera knows that fewer women than men take part in the STEM programs it offers in its Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). So recently, the Silicon Valley startup tested a hunch by sending learners different versions of an email promotion about a series of courses (including “Master Machine Learning”), with either a male and a female instructor. The results? Female students were 26% more likely to enroll in STEM courses if the instructor was female.

NO WAY TO TREAT AN ENGINEER: Andela is a creative startup that hires and trains engineers in Africa. So what happened when one highly-skilled African engineer stepped off his flight at JFK last week? Here’s the chilling story—and the questions he faced that you won’t find on any official visa application.

GAMING GETS A HIGH SCORE: A soon-to-be released study from Vanderbilt University reveals the impact of rigorous research into curricular tools, demonstrating that students who played education games outperformed peers on standardized tests. Vadim Polikov—founder of Legends of Learning, which co-sponsored the study—explains why edtech companies must help fund the research that informs innovation.


HUMANIZING ONLINE ED: Cal State Channel Islands offers a two-week online training course for its professors called Humanizing Online Learning, with tips and strategies for forging personal connections with remote students. The course's creator and instructor, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, and the university's vice president for technology and innovation, Michael Berman, talk about the effort, and about how online education can involve a surprising amount of passion—and even some tears. Listen to the conversation, or read the transcript.


“The product is not the innovation. The innovation is what people do with it” — Bridget Burns, Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance.

The following is a message from our sponsor

What is the impact of delivering digital course materials on the first day of classes?
Unfortunately, too many students delay purchasing textbooks. 45% admit that risky decision negatively impacts their grades. But what happens when students are provided their eTextbooks on or before the beginning of class? Download the Pathway to Academic Success with VitalSource Access infographic to find out.


500+: The number of student privacy bills that have been introduced in 49 states since 2014, 91 of which have passed. (Amelia Vance, Policy Council at Future of Privacy Forum, at SXSWedu).


EDUCATORS IN RED: Unlike most of the cheery meet-and-greets at this week’s SXSWedu conference, educators in Austin gathering for International Women’s Day talked through some tough issues centering around equity, privilege and women’s rights. Moderator Margaret Roth, Co-Founder of Yet Analytics, challenged the participants to be vulnerable and they rose to the challenge.

SUNNY WITH A CHANCE OF FUNDING: Ten starry-eyed startups took the stage this week for SXSWedu’s sixth annual Launch Competition, a two-part challenge where early-stage companies battle head-to-head for feedback, exposure and investment. From VR/AR anatomy learning tools, to on-demand grading assistants, there was no shortage of fresh ideas and robust tech to back them up. But in the end, only one could come out on top.

HE’S GOT IT FROM HERE: Dr. Christopher Emdin had the thousands of SXSWedu attendees cheering, clapping and, in some cases, crying during his fiery speech—one that at times felt more like a church revival than an education conference keynote. The associate professor from Columbia University’s Teachers College kicked off the annual event with a speech that pays respects to the latest album by the rap group A Tribe Called Quest: “We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service.”

LET’S CHAT: Can AI “chatbots” really help students make it through college? Georgia State University, one of the early school partners for Boston-based AdmitHub, shared details of a study of the interactions between AI chatbot “Pounce” and 3,100 students during a session at the Austin SXSWedu conference. The numbers suggest that such virtual assistants might find a useful spot on, say, the Facebook pages of colleges universities.


ARE YOU IN NYC OR SAN FRAN? If so, come join EdSurge and Intel at one of our two upcoming meetups about the role of accelerators in bridging the gaps between entrepreneurs, educators and learners! Register here for New York (March 23) or here for San Francisco (March 30).


iPASS, YOU PASS, WE ALL PASS: There’s no shortage of innovative ideas aimed to improve student outcomes. But no matter how good those ideas are, writes Assistant Director at the Community College Research Center Melinda Karp, “the success of these reforms will depend on whether they become embedded in how institutions work.” Karp, who studies iPASS (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success), shares findings on how transformative change happens in higher education.


SEED FUNDING FOR HIGHER ED: Calling startups engaged in higher-ed and workforce readiness work: Village Capital and Lumina Foundation want to help. They’re running workshops to support your planning and will make two $75K investments. Application deadline is April 10. Deets here.

FUNDING THE FUTURE: Aspiring to increase Black and Latino representation among education leaders to 30% by 2020, NewSchools Venture Fund has invested another $1 million in nine education organizations—each committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. Says NewSchools’ Deborah McGriff, “Too few practitioners mirror the ethnicity and socioeconomic status of the students they serve—making it more difficult to understand these students’ challenges.”

Looking for a job in edtech? You’ve come to the right place. EdSurge has the leading edtech jobs board with over 400 openings from schools, nonprofits and companies.

Curriculum Writer Researcher Flocabulary
Flocabulary is seeking a Writer/Researcher in the Creative and Curriculum department to research, write and edit educational content for a range of grade levels and subject areas.
Research • Startup • New York, NY

Product Director, Digital Course Portfolio Global Knowledge
Global Knowledge is seeking an experienced Product Manager working in the fast growing Digital Business managing the Global Knowledge Digital Course Portfolio on the Global Knowledge Learning Platform.
Product • Large Company • Durham, NC

Director: Instructional Design and Learning Support UCLA Extension
Director of Instructional Design and Learning Support provides leadership for the learning design department within UCLA Extension.
Executive • HigherEd Institution • Los Angeles, CA

Impact Investment and Program Associate The Michelson 20MM Foundation
Reporting to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives, the Impact Investment and Program Associate will have substantial responsibility on a small and entrepreneurial team that leads the impact investing activity.
Finance • Non Profit • Los Angeles, CA

Director of Business Development UC Berkeley
The primary goal of this position is to build the Executive Education business in the College of Engineering with the mission of increasing revenue from external and non-traditional sources. (7557U) Job 22717
Marketing • School • Berkeley, CA

Director, Product Management Schoology
Schoology is looking for a Director of Product Management to help lead our integrations and mobile strategies.
Product • Startup • New York, NY

Partner Manager edX
Client Partners or Partner Managers (PMs) are specialized consultants working to dramatically expand the development of online educational offerings with the top universities and institutions around the world.
Sales • Startup • Cambridge, MA

Academic Technologist New York University
The Academic Technologist serves as a support resource for Steinhardt faculty, staff and researchers.
Operations • School • New York, NY

Edtech Events

Post an event  ·  Check out our higher ed calendar!

NYC Meetup: Bridging Edtech Entrepreneurs, Educators and Learners
This event explores the forces at work that connect the builders, buyers and users of education technology. Sponsored by Intel Education Accelerator, hosted by EdSurge.
Mar 23 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm • New York, NY • Free

Bridging Entrepreneurs, Educators and Learners: The Role of Accelerators in 2017
Panelists will offer different perspectives—from the boardroom to the classroom—into the good, bad and sometimes befuddling side of what works in this complex ecosystem. Sponsored by Intel Education Accelerator, hosted by EdSurge
Mar 30 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm • San Francisco, CA • Free

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